When Darkness Falls


With daylight savings time rapidly approaching, it’s not uncommon for thoughts about running to turn dark. And there’s no doubt that it takes some adjustment to running at night and in the early morning hours, especially on the trails. I got to experience my first “overnight ultra” while pacing at Western States 100 this year, and even though I’ve trained in the dark in the past, there were a few things I learned.

While glow sticks were a welcome sight at the bottom of the American River at 11pm, lighting including headlamps, waistlamps and handhelds with maximum lumens (900+) are ideal. I got a little tunnel vision carrying a compact bright light (and my hand got uncomfortably warm), but found the extra illumination a welcome bonus, especially while pacing.  Unfamiliar terrain is common in ultrarunning, and additional lighting can’t hurt. Intense focus is required to navigate rocks and roots, so it’s best to ease into the darkness without having to worry about taking the road less traveled.

No matter what time of year, without that big orange orb in the sky our core temperature can drop quickly.  After my pacing gig ended at 3am (at the end of June), access to the indoors wasn’t immediate and I began to shiver almost instantly.  Be prepared with plenty of layers so you’re set for a drop in temperature or a sudden stop during your run.

And while it’s not as necessary during an official race, bring your phone along.  For all of the reasons above including a wrong turn or a sudden, unplanned stop, a phone can be a lifesaver in an emergency situation.  I don’t often take my phone with me except when I’m out on a long run, but extra precaution (and a photo of a flaming sunrise) is never a bad idea.

It’s amazing how strong your sense of sound gets when eyesight is strained. Running on the American River Canyon trail allowed me to catch a brief glimpse of a bench dedicated to a woman who was attacked by a mountain lion 20 years ago.  All my senses flared up immediately, and I heard every twig snap and leaf rattle for the next five miles. When the adrenaline starts pumping, calories burn at full steam.  Bring adequate fuel while out on the trail to compensate for your body working extra hard to stay warm and keep up with unplanned adrenaline spikes.

Running at night certainly has its benefits – especially in preparation for 50-100-milers. Honing those other senses, noting how your perception of speed changes, and which lighting techniques work the best will all help while training for an overnight ultra.  Even if you’re not training, the darkest days of the year are approaching and additional preparation is necessary. Keeping the miles up may mean a little adjustment in your routine, but running in the dark offers a whole new world of training opportunities.


About Author

Amy Clark is the Editor of UltraRunning Magazine. She began her career at a small advertising agency in Bend, Oregon, where she enjoyed the fast pace and creative environment. For over 15 years, lunch hour runs were a ritual. Amy also joined the board of the local running club, became a race director and finished her first ultra. She has completed over 35 marathons and ultras combined, and continues to run long distances while encouraging both kids and adults to ignite their own passion for running.

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